Pace student killed in taxi crash


By Anindita Dasgupta and Albert Amateau

Three months ago, Danielle Ricco, 20, learned that her long time dream of working for the Disney Company would finally come true. Two weeks shy of leaving for Flordia, her preparations for the selective internship were cut short by a fatal accident Sunday.

“It’s so sad that this should happen because she had a passion for what she was doing — she was going to be fulfilling her dream,” Claudia Green, program coordinator of the Hospitality Department at Pace University, where Ricco was a student, said. “For this to be robbed from her is so sad.”

Ricco was killed when her southbound cab lost control on the West Side Highway and hit the median at Houston St. She and her friends were returning from an evening in the Meat Market district. Her friends, Amy Vallarelli, 20, and sisters Enza 21, and Anna Sallustio, 16, were also injured in the accident. Vallarelli and Enza were also students at Pace. The driver, Hassan Afzal, 20, of Queens, was also severely injured.

Vallerelli’s father reportedly said his daughter told him that they had asked Afzal to turn down the music that was playing in the cab. However, according to Vallerelli, Afzal made the music louder and began speeding. The car hit the median and scraped along it for several yards then flipped into the oncoming lane. Ricco’s side door flew open, hurling her out of the car. Another cab swerved to avoid the flipped cab, hitting and killing Ricco.

Afzal had only received his license on May 5 of this year. Vallerelli said that his daughter mentioned that Afzal had slumped over the wheel before the cab crashed. His relatives maintain that he suffered a seizure two or three years ago.

Green described Ricco as a dedicated and hardworking young lady. “When a student is motivated and passionate about what she does, you can tell,” Green said. “She [Ricco] was one of those [students].”

Pace University’s president, David Caputo, offered his condolences in a statement: “We are all saddened by this news and sympathize with the loss that the Ricco family has suffered. Our hopes and prayers are with them and with the other victims and their families and friends as well.”

“I can’t tell you how upset we are in the university community about her loss,” Green added. “It’s unspeakable.”

As of Tuesday, Enza was in critical condition at St. Vincent’s hospital, while her sister Anna and Vallarelli were in stable condition. Wednesday, St. Vincent’s confirmed that the patients were now in stable condition. Afzal was in stable condition with head injuries and a broken leg on Tuesday. Police are currently investigating the circumstances of the incident.

Services were held Tuesday from 7-9 p.m. and will be held June 14 from 2-4 p.m. and 7-9 p.m. at Casey McCallum – Rice Funeral Home, 30 Nelson Avenue, on Staten Island. The funeral mass is scheduled for June 15 at 9:45 a.m. at St. Claire’s Church, 110 Nelson Avenue, Staten Island.

WWW Downtown Express